Vitamin k deficiency – Causes and symptoms
Vitamin K, also known as the clotting vitamin is essential to help blood clot and prevent excessive bleeding. Lack of this important vitamin leads to easy bruising, bleeding from the nose and gums and an inability to absorb calcium resulting in weak bones.
Sources of vitamin K
Vegetables and dairy products contain this important vitamin. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, mustard greens and green lettuce are good sources of vitamin K. The brassica family comprising cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli are other sources. Eggs, meat, fish and cereals contain smaller amounts. Vitamin k is formed in the small intestine with the help of certain healthy bacteria that reside there. Also vitamin K is recycled in the body, which means it can be used a number of times before it gets exhausted. Synthetic vitamin K can be given as an injection to those who require it.
Causes of vitamin K deficiency
Vitamin K deficiency is rare in normal healthy individuals. Sometimes it may be deficient in newborns as the bacteria in their gut are not enough to produce the amount needed, this can be corrected by giving a single injection of the same.
- Long term use of antibiotics kills the healthy bacteria in the gut that help form vitamin K. Hence people having chronic infectious conditions or those with HIV/AIDS with poor immunity are prey to contracting bacterial infections which require antibiotics to given for a prolonged time. These individuals may develop vitamin K deficiency.
- People with chronic disorders involving the liver, pancreas and intestines are at risk of developing this deficiency. This is because vitamin K is synthesised in the liver from the inactive to active form and then goes to the small intestine where it resides. Hence it is seen in inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, alcoholic liver disease and hepatitis.
Symptoms of vitamin K deficiency
As this vitamin is vital to the clotting mechanism of the bosy,a lack of it leads to frequent episodes of bleeding. Bleeding gums, nosebleeds, oozing from a surgical wound or ulcer are examples.
People who are on long term anticoagulants like warfarin or anti-platelet drugs must consult their doctor before taking vitamin K supplements because a combination could hamper blood clotting and the person may bleed uncontrollably which will be fatal. They may also be asked to limit intake of foods containing this vitamin.
- Easy bruising is another symptom, this is visible where the skin is thin.
- Lack of blood clotting may lead to a haemorrhage in an organ of the body which can be fatal in areas like the brain.
- Vitamin K hinders the body’s ability to absorb calcium, this causes weakness of bones and osteoporosis especially in women.
How much vitamin K does a person need?
The amount every person needs is different depending on their age, sex, presence of illness and in women who are breastfeeding or pregnant.
The RDA is the Recommended Dietary Allowance for different foods. On this basis the requirement is as follows for different groups.
Infants – 2-2.5 micrograms/day
Children – 30-60 micrograms/day
Adults - 75-90 micrograms/day.
Written by Dr Nisreen Nakhoda, General Physician
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